I can still see the look on Marian's face. Her husband, Dan, had recently left her for another woman, and she was trying to understand what had happened and what to do next. As Marian's counselor, I asked about her husband's family history. Dan's father had left for another woman when Dan was 13, and Dan hadn't spoken to his dad since.
"That's interesting," I said. "His father left when Dan, the oldest in his family, was 13. How old is your oldest child?" Marian answered, "Thirteen." Then it hit her—Dan had acted out a generational pattern with frightening precision.
"So Dan was 'destined' to do this?" Marian asked.
"No," I said. "But when we don't deal with the baggage from our family-of-origin, it's easy for generational patterns to repeat themselves. Dan apparently had stored away all that past baggage, hoping it would stay hidden in its place."
Generational patterns are behaviors that repeat themselves from one generation to the next. The Bible says that though God forgives "every kind of sin and rebellion," he will not "leave sin unpunished, but I punish the children for the sins of their parents to the third and fourth generations" (Exodus 34:7, NLT).
We see generational patterns especially in abusive situations. People who are physically or verbally abusive to their spouse usually were abused by their parents, or they witnessed one parent abuse the other.1